Pickens, Slim


Pickens, Slim
(1919–1983)
   Slim Pickens was born Louis Bert Lindley Jr. in Kingsberg, California, in 1919, and started out as a Texas cowhand. He took the pseudonym of Slim Pickens when he joined the rodeo circuit as a clown in the 1930s. He also competed as a rider of bucking broncos and finally drifted into movies as a stuntman. One of his first films was The Story of Will Rogers (1950). He was largely associated with Westerns, and was given the part of a deputy sheriff in ONE-EYED JACKS (1961) by STANLEY KUBRICK, before the star, MARLON BRANDO, fired Kubrick as director and took over the direction of the film himself. Kubrick remembered Pickens when he was casting DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB. Dr. Strangelove (1964) is a SCIENCE FICTION film built around the decision of the mentally unbalanced Gen. Jack D. Ripper (STERLING HAYDEN) to order B-52 bombers holding at their fail-safe points to commence a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. The paranoid General Ripper’s reason for instigating a nuclear attack on Russia is his belief that his sexual impotence has been caused by an international communist plot to poison the drinking water. As Ripper discourses on how the fluoridation of America’s drinking water has sapped his sexual potency, Kubrick shows him in close-up, with a phallic cigar between his lips.
   In the film, PETER SELLERS plays not only the title role of the eccentric scientist, but also the president of the United States, Merken Muffley, and Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, the British officer who tries to dissuade General Ripper from the bombing attack. Kubrick had also intended Sellers to play the Texas pilot Maj. T. J. “King”Kong, the commander of the only bomber to get through to its Russian target. But Sellers struggled with the part of Kong for a week and could not master the major’s Texas twang. He asked Kubrick to allow him to give up this fourth role, but Kubrick remained adamant that he play it. Finally, Sellers accidentally cracked his ankle, when he tripped while emerging from his limousine, and begged off from doing Kong’s scenes. Kubrick complied, but wondered if Sellers had suffered the fall “accidentally-on-purpose,” to get out of playing a part he was not comfortable with.
   To replace Sellers, Kubrick then thought of the cowboy he had cast in One-Eyed Jacks. He phoned Pickens from London, where the film was being shot, at Pickens’s horse farm near Fresno, California, on a Friday night and offered him the part of Major Kong. After agreeing to play Kong, Pickens drove into town the following day to get a passport, since he had never left the United States before. On the Monday after Kubrick’s call, Pickens was on his way to England. He arrived at Shepperton Studios sporting a 10-gallon hat, a cowboy shirt, blue jeans, and boots. The cast assumed that he had brought his own costume, but Pickens was merely wearing what he normally wore on his horse farm. Kubrick did not show him any of the footage that was already in the can; he simply advised Pickens to play his role straight, delivering his lines in a deadpan manner. During rehearsals, Kubrick invited the actors to make suggestions on how best to work out the details of the action in a given scene. Then he would incorporate into the script the suggestions that he liked the most. “Stanley is a very quiet person and a brain picker,” Pickens says in Gene Phillips’s book. “He surrounds himself with a bunch of bright people, and when anybody comes up with a bright idea, Stanley uses it. ”
   At the beginning of the film, a narrator explains that, in order to guard against the possibility of surprise attack, the U. S. Strategic Air Command (SAC) maintains a force of planes airborne 24 hours a day, spread out from the Persian Gulf to the Arctic Ocean. “But they all have one geographic factor in common. They are all two hours from their targets inside Russia. ” Hence Ripper has placed the planes in his command on Plan R, according to which they will all proceed to bomb their specifically allotted primary and secondary targets within the Soviet Union. Inside one of the bombers, the crew sits around lackadaisically as they fly their routine mission. Major Kong pages through Playboy, pausing at the centerfold; one of the crew members performs card tricks for his own amusement; the radio operator, Lieutenant Goldberg, munches a candy bar until he receives the transmission of Wing Attack Plan R. Major Kong thinks Goldberg is playing a practical joke and insists on having the message confirmed by Burpleson Air Base, which is under General Ripper’s command. “Goldie, how many times have I told you guys I don’t want no horsing around on the airplane,” he says irritably, as if he were addressing the unruly occupants of a school bus. Here is an example of how much of the humor—and horror—of the movie is rooted in the fact that the individuals most seriously involved in the crisis around which the film turns either do not grasp the enormity of what is happening or fall back on patterns of behavior that would be perfectly acceptable under normal circumstances, but which become madly incongruous, given the situation. “General Ripper wouldn’t give us Plan R unless them Rooskies had already clobbered Washington and a lot of other places,” Kong says over the intercom. When the orders are duly confirmed, Kong dramatically opens the book of instructions labeled Plan R, clamping on his trusty Stetson just as the insistent strumming of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” commences, all drums and bugles, on the sound track. This melody will continue to be heard in every one of the flight deck scenes, its incessant snare drum accompaniment building tension. Robert Kolker points out the irony of Kubrick’s choice of music, since we realize by film’s end that neither Johnny nor anyone else is going to come marching home from this battle.
   “Well, boys, I reckon this is it,” Kong intones solemnly, “nuclear combat toe-to-toe with the Rooskies. ” Like a cavalry officer in some forgotten Civil War film, Kong reminds his men that the folks back home are counting on them and that “there will be some important promotions and citations when we come through this. And that goes for every last one of you,” he concludes generously, “regardless of your race, your color, or your creed!”
   Kong and his men open their survival kits, while over the intercom the major itemizes the incongruous contents. There are, among other things, one drug issue containing morphine pills and vitamin pills, pep pills and tranquilizers; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; and three pairs of nylon stockings. “Shoot,” Kong comments, “a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that. ” When Kong’s plane enters Soviet air space, the navigator reports that a missile is tracking the aircraft, so Kong institutes evasive action which results in the plane’s being damaged but not destroyed. The plane is filled with smoke and debris after the explosion, and it rocks under the impact of the missile. Radio operator Goldberg discovers as the plane settles back on course that the radio mechanism is out of commission: “I think the auto-destruct apparatus was hit and it blew itself up. ” So the plane can have no further communication with Burpleson Air Base or anywhere else. Because of all of those World War II movies in which the viewer was supposed to root for the U. S. bomber to complete its mission in the face of enemy attack, the filmgoer gets so caught up in the scenes on the flight deck that one momentarily empathizes with Major Kong’s satisfaction that the bomber can still reach both its primary and secondary targets, despite the damages the plane has sustained. Then the viewer is jolted into realizing that if the plane, aptly named The Leper Colony, reaches either target, it will ignite the Doomsday Machine. Earlier we learned (but the crew aboard the plane did not) that the Doomsday Machine is Russia’s retaliatory device: It will be automatically triggered in retaliation for a nuclear attack, and, incapable of being deactivated, it will destroy human and animal life on Earth for nearly a century. Kong, of course, does not know this, and he assures his crew,“Well, boys,we got three engines out and we got more holes in us than a horse trader’s mule. The radio’s gone and we’re leaking fuel, and if we were flying any lower we would need sleigh bells on this thing. But at this height the Rooskies won’t spot us on no radar screen. ”
   The navigator of The Leper Colony, however, is much less sanguine than Kong about the plane’s potential to carry out its mission. He advises Kong that because the rate of fuel loss is accelerating, the aircraft can no longer reach either its primary or its secondary target. With a determination that increases in inverse proportion to the obstacles that are mounting to bar the way, Kong fumes,“Well, shoot! We didn’t come this far to dump this thing in the drink. What’s the nearest target?”The navigator sets a new course and the plane is on its way to the only target it can hope to reach before it runs out of gas. As the airship approaches its new objective, the bombardier finds that the bomb doors will not open. “Stay on the bomb run, boys; I’m going to get those doors open,” Kong vows. The drumming musical theme associated with all of the scenes on the flight deck becomes steadily louder and more persistent as Kong drops into the bomb bay, moving toward the camera between the two huge nuclear bombs in the foreground. He sits astride one of the bombs and fusses with wires on the bomb door circuits, which spit and flare at him defiantly, while the navigator overhead announces on the intercom that the plane is approaching its target.
   As the navigator says anxiously, “Target in sight! Where the hell is Major Kong?!” the bomb bay doors swing open. With the immensities of space yawning beneath him, Kong manages to dislodge the bomb on which he is seated from its chamber and he begins to plummet with it toward Earth. Kong waves his Stetson in the air and gives out with a rodeo shout as he hurtles downward. The bomb between his legs looks like a gigantic symbol of potency; the immense phallic image recalls General Ripper’s fear of impotency, which had triggered the bombing mission in the first place. The screen turns a dazzling white as the bomb lands on target and sets off a string of explosions as the Doomsday Machine goes into action and Armageddon is at hand.
   KEN ADAM, the film’s production designer, recalls in VINCENT LOBRUTTO’s biography of Kubrick that it was at the point that Kubrick thought of casting Slim Pickens, a real bronco buster, as the pilot from Texas that he got the inspiration for the cowboy to ride the nuclear bomb like a bronco to its target. More than one film scholar has said that it was perhaps fortuitous that Sellers refused to play Kong, since it is hard to picture Sellers giving a performance that could match Pickens’s winning portrayal.
   For the record, the world was fearful of nuclear annihilation at the time Kubrick made Dr. Strangelove; but eventually the superpowers found the expense of maintaining fleets of nuclear bombers at fail safe points was prohibitive, and came to a mutual agreement to abandon the failsafe option. But Kubrick’s film takes place before that eventuality occurred. After Dr. Strangelove, Pickens continued to play mainly in Westerns throughout the 1960s and 1970s, working for major directors at times, as in three films, Major Dundee (1965) with Charlton Heston, The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) with Jason Robards, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) with James Coburn-all directed by Sam Peckinpah. One of Pickens’s last films was the elegiac Honeysuckle Rose (1980), opposite Willie Nelson as an aging country-western music star. In any case, Slim Pickens gave the performance of his career as the good-natured, benighted Texan in Dr. Strangelove.
   References
   ■ Howard, James, Stanley Kubrick Companion (London: Batsford, 1999), pp. 87–98;
   ■ Kolker, Robert, The Cinema of Loneliness, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 121–129;
   ■ LoBrutto,Vincent, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Da Capo, 1999);
   ■ Phillips, Gene, Stanley Kubrick:A Film Odyssey (New York; Popular Library, 1997), pp. 107–126.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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  • Slim Pickens — Infobox actor imagesize = caption = birthname = Louis Burton (Bert) Lindley, Jr. birthdate = birth date|1919|6|29|mf=y birthplace = Kingsburg, California, U.S. deathdate = death date and age|1983|12|8|1919|6|29 deathplace = Modesto, California ,U …   Wikipedia

  • Slim Pickens —  Pour l’article homonyme, voir Pickens.  Slim Pickens est un acteur et compositeur américain, né le 29 juin 1919 à Kingsburg, en Californie, et décédé le 8 décembre 1983 à Modesto, en Californie (États Unis). Sommaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Slim Pickens — es el nombre artístico de un actor estadounidense. Su verdadero nombre era Louis Bert Lindley Jr.. Biografía Slim Pickens nació el 29 de junio de 1919 en Kingsburg (California). A los cuatro años ya era un excelente jinete, lo que provocó que a… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Slim Pickens — (* 29. Juni 1919 in Kingsburg, Kalifornien; † 8. Dezember 1983 in Modesto, Kalifornien; eigentlich Louis Bert Lindley, Jr.) war ein US amerikanischer Filmschauspieler. Bekannt wurde Pickens in seinen zahlreichen Westernfilmen. Seine Paraderolle… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Pickens — is the name of several places in the United States of America: *Pickens, Mississippi *Pickens, Oklahoma *Pickens, South Carolina *Pickens, West Virginia *Pickens County, Alabama *Pickens County, Georgia *Pickens County, South CarolinaPeople with… …   Wikipedia

  • Pickens — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Andrew Pickens senior (1739–1817), US amerikanischer General und Politiker Andrew Pickens junior (1779–1838), Gouverneur von South Carolina Buster Pickens (1916–1964), US amerikanischer Blues Musiker… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Slim — may refer to:* Field Marshal William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim (1891–1970), a British military commander and 13th Governor General of Australia * Slim (film), a 1937 film adaptation of the William Wister Haines novel starring Henry Fonda * Slim… …   Wikipedia

  • Slim — puede referirse a: Modelo SLIM, un modelo de estimación del coste de proyectos software. Carlos Slim Helú, empresario mexicano. Carlos Slim Domit, empresario mexicano, hijo del anterior. Patrick Slim Domit, empresario mexicano, hijo del primero y …   Wikipedia Español

  • Slim Pickens — es un actor tejano que interpreto al piloto Kong en la película de Kubrick Telefono rojo, volamos hacia Moscú . Fue elegido para el papel por su fuerte acento y gestos tejanos …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Pickens — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Pickens est un nom anglo saxon assez fréquent aux États Unis d Amérique. Patronyme Andrew Pickens est un héros de la Guerre d indépendance des États Unis… …   Wikipédia en Français


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